Grapevine: Changing of the guard

Some of the US Embassy staff gathered in clusters could be overheard saying “I don’t want him to leave,” and “None of us does.”

January 19, 2017 21:15
Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, at Nevatim air force base

Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, at Nevatim air force base. (photo credit: US STATE DEPARTMENT)

Tuesday was an extremely emotional day for outgoing US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, who will now become an ordinary US citizen, who is living temporarily in Israel until his eldest daughter, 16-yearold Liat, completes her bagrut exams. Liat is a student at a high school in Ra’anana, where the Shapiro family has set up house.

Shapiro was in Jerusalem during the day on Tuesday making his farewells to President Reuven Rivlin and the Knesset. In the evening, Shapiro and his wife, Julie Fisher, along with their two younger daughters, Merav, 12 and Shira, 9, had an official farewell reception at the Rabin Center. Shapiro, a lifelong admirer of Rabin, thought was the most appropriate place from which to make the transition out of his diplomatic role.

The hosts-cum-guests of honor and their guests were welcomed to the Rabin Center by third-generation Sabra Noa Ben Artzi Rothman, who was substituting for her mother Dalia Rabin, who was in New Zealand.

Ben Artzi credited her grandfather Yitzhak Rabin with laying the foundations for the strategic relationship between the two countries, during his term as Israel’s ambassador to the US. The Rabin Center was a fitting place in which to express appreciation to Shapiro for his contribution to sustaining the vital US-American partnership, she said.

An ambassador’s spouse, particularly a US ambassador’s spouse, is likewise an ambassador – but without the title and the salary.

Julie Fisher filled that role with charm, grace and laid-back energy.

She headed the Diplomatic Spouses Club, many of whose members were present, and was also active in the International Women’s Club.

Both organizations encourage bi-lateral and multi-lateral activities, mainly in the social and cultural spheres. In the five-and-a-half years in which they have “represented the country we love in the country which is our biggest ally,” they have hosted more than 20,000 people said Fisher, adding that serving their country in Israel had been “an honor and a privilege” leaving them with many memories that they will cherish.

Shapiro and his wife, who are a most affectionate couple, heaped compliments on each other, with Fisher – who is not quite as politically correct as her husband – saying that he has a “Zen-like calm demeanor which comes in handy when dealing with Israelis.”

There is no doubt that Shapiro loved his job. He had been preparing for it his whole life, he said.

Judging by the variety of photographs running across video screens strategically placed around the hall, Shapiro didn’t need to prepare.

He’s a natural people person.

He traveled all over Israel, meeting people of every faith, every race and every background, and he connected with them instantly, especially children with special needs.

His ability to speak Hebrew fluently was often a valuable ice breaker as were the contents of his closet.

Shapiro seems to have had clothing suitable for every occasion from ultra-formal to totally informal. He had access to any and every kind of endeavor in Israel, as well as to the top brass in every field. He’s also a Jew for all seasons. Though Conservative in terms of affiliation, he can fit quite easily into the haredi world. It also helps that his talents include being to read the Torah for the congregation. Sharing some of his experiences, Shapiro stopped every now and again in an effort to control the lump in his throat, but it was obviously difficult. His one regret was that peace between Israel and the Palestinians did not come about on his watch.

Other than that, Israel has been good to and for his family. “My children will always feel connected, and Julie has flourished,” he said.

When he eventually goes back to America, what he will miss most is Israeli straightforwardness. “No Israeli has ever hesitated to have a totally honest conversation with me,” said Shapiro Seen in the crowd were former prime minister, defense minister and foreign minister Ehud Barak and his wife, Nili, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Supreme Court President Miriam Naor and her husband, Prof, Arye Naor, who is vice chairman of the Israel Association of Political Sciences and was cabinet secretary to Menachem Begin, MK Amir Peretz, who is aiming to again become leader of the Labor Party, former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy and his wife, Hadassah, peace activist and former cabinet minister Ephraim Sneh, Zaka founder Yehuda Meshi Zahav, former ambassador to the United Nations Ron Prosor, Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, Yossi Abramowitz, co-founder of the Arava Power Company, and former cabinet minister Rabbi Michael Melchior, who is an active advocate for social justice, education reform, interfaith peace and coexistence.

British Ambassador David Quarrey and Australian Ambassador Dave Sharma, who are seldom seen at the national day receptions of their various colleagues because they are busy hosting so many events themselves, obviously saved the date on their calendars to be able to attend the Shapiro farewell, with Sharma, who is a personal friend of Shapiro, staying to the very end.

Some of the US Embassy staff gathered in clusters could be overheard saying “I don’t want him to leave,” and “None of us does.”

At events at which national anthems are played, Shapiro and his wife have been very careful not to sing “Hatikva.” Will he sing it once he’s a civilian, he was asked? He thought for a moment and then said he didn’t know. Fisher was more forthcoming. She’d really missed not singing it, she said, because in American Jewish communities, it’s the thing to sing “Hatikva” at every function.

■ IT’S NOT fair to Sabbath observers to have scintillating events on a Friday in the winter months. For those who don’t have to be home in time for candle lighting, Channel 10’s controversial political commentator, investigative reporter and program host Raviv Drucker will be the guest of honor of the organization Katedra this morning in the Klaczkin auditorium of the Eretz Israel Museum, where he will reveal some of the behind the scenes pressures and intrigues that influence the way in which news is presented to the public. His address will be split between two sessions, the first from 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., and the second from 2 p.m.

to 3:15 p.m.

This is cutting it fine even for Sabbath observers who live in Tel Aviv, but is an impossible time frame for those who don’t.

■ POLAND’S PRESIDENT Andrzej Duda did a lot of wreath laying during his visit to Israel this week.

Accompanied by Nadav Peres, the grandson of Israel’s ninth president, Duda laid a wreath at the tombs of Shimon Peres, and also at the graves of Yitzhak Rabin and Theodor Herzl. Next, accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he laid a wreath at the grave of Yoni Netanyahu, and finally he laid a wreath at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Ramle in the section reserved for Polish soldiers.

On Wednesday, Duda received a spontaneous, stirring ovation at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center after delivering an emotional address on the history of Polish-Jewish relations, and the patriotism of Polish Jews in the Polish Army, and also of Polish Jews who participated in the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, which was the first major civilian resistance against the Nazis. “They flew both the blue and white Jewish flag and the red and white Polish flag,” he said. He was not referring to the Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Combat Organization) headed by Hashomer Hatzair leader Mordechai Anielewicz, but to the Betar group led by Pawel Frenkel, whose name and deeds had fallen into obscurity, until redeemed for the sake of historical accuracy by former foreign minister and defense minister Moshe Arens in his book Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto.

In his reference to the group that fought under these flags, Duda said: “They fought for the freedom of the Jews and the freedom of Poland.”

Unfortunately, Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser Duda could not stay for the screening of the documentary film We Shall Remember Them All, which has been six years in production and is nearing completion. They had a private viewing of the Jews in the Polish Army exhibition in the lobby outside the auditorium, before joining the Netanyahus for dinner.

But in his speech in which he elaborated on the contribution of Polish Jews to the creation and development of the State of Israel, Duda also emphasized how fitting it was that his address and the exhibition were taking place in the Begin Heritage Center, because Begin had arrived in the land of Israel as a soldier in Anders’ Army, had become leader of the opposition, and later prime minister. Duda noted that Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, had also come from Poland.

The film opens with Arens speaking at Yad Vashem, and saying that the most reliable records about the Holocaust are those documented by the Nazis themselves. The film centers to a large extent on the testimonies of three women who were part of Frenkel’s group: Zuta Hartman, Fella Finkelstein, and Emilka Kossover. For years no one would believe them. The only surviving heroes were those from the left of the political spectrum, most notably Yitzhak (Antek) Cukierman, his wife, Zivia Lubetkin, and Simcha Rotem, who went by the nom de guerre of Kazik.

In Israel, Finkelstein wanted to meet with Lubetkin to set the record straight, but Lubetkin refused to meet with her, and in giving testimony at the Eichman trial, focused solely on the resistance force led by Anielewicz.

After many years, Rotem finally agreed to meet with Hartman But politely denigrated her, and made it seem as if everything she said was a fabrication.

Hartman, who for years was frustrated by this denial of history, was finally vindicated in 2011, when Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot invited her to light one of the beacons at the Holocaust Remembrance ceremony.

Already very ill, she died not long afterward, and among the wreaths that covered her grave was one from Yad Vashem. Members of the Hartman and Finkelstein families were in the audience to hear what Zuta and Fella had told the filmmakers. Speaking of the battle in the Warsaw Ghetto, Zuta Hartman said: “We knew it was a catastrophe, but we also knew that we would never surrender.”

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